WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

Samir and Yonatan

Written by Daniella Carmi
Translated by Yael Lotan.
Scholastic, 2000, 160 pp
ISBN: 9780439135047

Samir, a young boy from the occupied West Bank of Palestine, still mourns the death of his younger brother, Fadi. He has crushed his knee in a bicycle injury and is forced to remain in an Israeli hospital for knee surgery. He finds himself in a hospital room with six Israeli children towards whom he feels bitterness since he holds resentment to their people for his brother’s death. His father has shrunken into a cone of silence and his mother must work two jobs to support the family and so Samir suffers alone in the Israeli hospital awaiting surgery from an American surgeon.

This book, written for readers ages 10 and up, is an excellent resource for discussing bitterness and conflicts regarding race and culture. Originally written in Hebrew in 1994 by Daniella Carmi, Samir and Yonatan was later translated by Yael Lotan into English. It was written for children from the Middle East, but children of all ethnicities can relate to the agony of being scared and alone among those they believe to be their enemies. This is a slow paced novel, but this slow pace gives the reader time to absorb and relate to the boy’s range of feelings. The story is a narrative told in first person by Samir. His thoughts take the story back and forth from the past to the present, remembering the curfews in his home town where he left behind a friend, Adnan.

Scared and alone at this first time away from his home, he waits not knowing what will happen next while he tries to understand the other six Jewish children in his hospital room. His anxious wait is extended due to his fever and then to the sealing off of various territories. During his time with the other children, Samir begins to see the heart of each child and learns acceptance, compassion, and, most of all, forgiveness. Ludmilla, one of the other patients, refuses to eat. Samir attempts to help her by saying his secret magic words under his covers. Razia, the other girl, is fearful of her father, but when she is protected by her new friends, he visits and the two re-unite. Yonatan’s fascination and knowledge of the stars intrigue Samir. Yonatan helps Samir find escape through a computer game as they travel through space to a place of peace and forgiveness.

Daniella Carmi is a native of Tel Aviv and studied Hebrew and philosophy at the University of Jerusalem. Samir and Yonatan was awarded an Honorable Mention from UNESCO for Children`s and Young People`s Literature in the Service of Tolerance (1997), the Berlin Prize for Best Children`s Book in Translation (1997), the Silver Quill Award (Germany, 1997), the Batchelder Award for Best Translated Book by the American Library Association (2001), and the Italian WIZO Prize (2003).

Carmi has written several other books for children and young adults, including The Explosion on Ahalan Street (1985), Porcupines in Efrata Street (1988), Samir and Jonathan on Mars (1994), To Be the Daughter of a Gypsy (1996), Bianca the Ghost (2001), A Lady Hippopotamus on the Roof (2001), A Journey on a Scooter (2003), and Me and the Whale (2008).

Texts that would be excellent companions with the theme of tolerance include: A Little Piece of Ground (2006) and Kiss the Dust (1994) both by Elizabeth Laird; Habibi (1999) by Naomi Shihab Nye, and A Stone in My Hand (2010) by Cathryn Clinton.

Ragina Shearer, University of North Texas and Calhoun Middle School, Denton, TX

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